Robert Novak was on C-SPAN on Friday, and he took the opportunity to slime me. I don’t know what the conservative columnist has against yours truly. Countless times in the past three years I’ve explained to outraged White House critics that Novak could not be charged under the Intelligence Identities Protection Act (which applies mainly to government officials and only to journalists who engage in a pattern of identifying undercover CIA officers with the intent of harming the spy service). I haven’t even criticized him much–if at all–for publishing the Plame leak, for, as a journalist, I assign more culpability to the leakers in this case (Richard Armitage, Karl Rove, Scooter Libby) than the leak conveyors (Novak, Matt Cooper). Yet Novak has a bug up his keister about me, and he let it fly on C-SPAN.

I suspect his antipathy has something to do with his legal bills. He seems to blame me for the investigation that proceeded the leak he published–an inquiry that caused him to hire a lawyer and say nothing for two-and-a-half years. On C-SPAN, he declared,

There was an enormous hue and cry that was ginned up by left-wing journalists such as David Corn of The Nation and a left-wing investigative team from Newsday. And with Senator Chuck Schumer leading the way, some very partisan Democrats hyped up the case.

And, in Novak’s telling, this all led to “a very unnecessary investigation.” While presenting his paranoid account–a “left-wing investigative team” from Newsday?–he failed to mention that the CIA first examined the leak and then asked the Justice Department for an FBI investigation. I find it difficult to believe that my one web-column or the remarks of Senator Schumer somehow caused the CIA lawyers to do something they would not have otherwise done. Maybe I am too modest.

Novak was not content to assail me for concocting a scandal (would if I could!); he got personal when referring to the new book I wrote with Newsweek‘s Michael Isikoff, Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War:

That’s a very odd couple: Isikoff and Corn. Isikoff says he is non-ideological and nonpartisan. I think he is. I think he’s a great investigative reporter….Corn is a left-wing ideologue from The Nation magazine. In Mr. [Joseph] Wilson’s memoir, he has Corn advising him, telling him that a law was broken, egging him on. So he was a part of the whole buildup of this story. And its deeply ironic that his book is the book that is being used to indicate that there was no conspiracy. You can’t in your wildest imagination imagine Armitage as part of a plot to undermine the Wilsons. So, of course, Corn is frantic. He’s writing blogs and writing in The Nation saying there was another track. Which is a great conspiracy theory. There’s always another track.

Being called an “ideologue” by Robert Novak is like being called a “cheat” by Jack Abramoff. Worse, Novak has his facts wrong. I was no adviser to Wilson and did not egg him. As Hubris makes clear–and let me remind readers once again, this book is about the selling of the war, not only the leak case–I called Wilson after the Novak column appeared and asked if he knew of the Intelligence Identities Protection Act. Wilson said that he didn’t and that he wasn’t at this point looking to draw additional attention to the Novak column. The next day, I called him again to see if anyone had yet written about this angle. Wilson said no one had; he still was not eager to publicize the leak. When I mentioned I intended to write about the leak and the possible legal (criminal, that is) ramifications, Wilson said, “It’s up to you.” There was no egging going on–from either side.

Spouting on C-SPAN, Novak ignored this part of the story–just as he ignored whole sections of the book that show that Rove (Novak’s friend) and Libby were hell-bent on discrediting Wilson and that during the push-back campaign they waged against Wilson, they each disclosed classified information about his wife’s CIA employment to reporters (before the leak appeared in Novak’s column). This is not a conspiracy theory. It’s a documented narrative that appears in Hubris–with new details. Our account expands on a well-established public record. Special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald filed court papers earlier this year noting that senior White House officials (meaning Rove and Libby) mounted a campaign to discredit or punish Joseph Wilson, who had criticized the administration’s handling of the prewar intelligence on Iraq’s WMDs. Is it Novak’s position that Rove did not leak to Cooper? That Libby did not leak to Judith Miller of The New York Times? Novak ought to get out more–or, at least, read.

Novak went on:

Mr. Corn is a nasty piece of work–let me tell you that. And he was the one who really built this story up. He is in what I think is a deliciously ironic situation because he was one of the people–much more I believe than Chris Matthews–for building this story up from the outset….And he is in a position where most of the investigative work done by his partner Isikoff he is a party to breaking down this story….which must actually destroy him.

Destroyed? Having a book hit the No. 1 spot on the bestseller list and reach the bestseller lists of The New York Times and The Washington Post is hardly destruction. But see the bind Novak is in? He attributes the disclosure in Hubris that he fancies–that Armitage was his first source–solely to Isikoff; he disregards what the book (co-written by at least one great investigative reporter, according to Novak) reveals about Rove’s and Libby’s critical involvement in the leak affair. Talk about cherry-picking.

Novak then addressed my recent column on his cat fight with Armitage by attacking me–not by explaining the contradiction I pointed out. He told Brian Lamb:

[Corn] is so outraged at me with this that he seems to be taking Armitage’s side….My account is completely truthful.

Novak should look at that column again. I did not take Armitage’s side in this disagreement. To recap that tussle: after our book outed Armitage, the former deputy secretary of state confessed but said his leak to Novak was an inadvertent slip. Novak in a column this past week claimed the leak was a deliberate act. Here’s how I sussed out the conflict:

Novak’s current account may well be an accurate recollection. There’s no reason to take Armitage’s quasi-face-saving version at face-value.

How is that taking Armitage’s side? Novak might need to hone his reading comprehension skills. But I did note that Novak had changed his story significantly. In an October 1, 2003 column, Novak described the leak this way:

It was an offhand revelation from this [unnamed] official, who is no partisan gunslinger.

Yet now Novak maintains that Armitage was slipping him the Plame info purposefully and even suggesting Novak use it in a column. What accounts for this flip-flop? Novak has not explained it. I suggested one possible reason for this change of tune. When Novak in 2003 characterized the leak as idle chitchat, the news had just broken that the White House was being investigated for the leak–and Rove was a possible target of that criminal probe. So Novak, who is close to Rove, had an interest in downplaying the significance of the leak and any intentionality behind it. Now that Bush-backers are exploiting (and misusing) our book to lay all the blame on Armitage’s broad shoulders in order to absolve Rove of any wrongdoing, Novak is piling on by depicting Armitage’s leak as deliberate. My hunch might be wrong. But Novak has yet to reconcile his recent column with his October 1, 2003 offering. Instead, he attacks me.

I’d rather not be in assorted pissing matches with fact-ignoring conservatives about the leak case. (See here for a rebuttal of a silly charge thrown at me by The Wall Street Journal and Victoria Toensing.) Our book, as I constantly note, is about so much more than the Plame affair. For instance, I’d like to see Novak and other White House allies respond to the scene in our book in which the new Iraqi intelligence chief–a year after the invasion–visits Bush in the Oval Office and tells him the security situation in Baghdad is hellish and getting worse and Bush asks him no question. But White House defenders are only interested in selectively mis-citing the book to help White House aides who share the responsibility for the current mess in Iraq. How shocking.

By the way, there is another contradiction for Novak to explain. On C-SPAN, he repeatedly dismissed me as an “ideologue” and “editorialist” with no reporting skills:

I don’t think he’s really interested in getting facts. He’s interested in getting out a line.

Please don’t laugh at the thought of Novak assailing anyone else on such terms–until I reach the punch line. After hearing Novak say that about me, I went to my bookshelf and found a copy of his last book, Completing the Revolution: A Vision for Victory in 2000, which was released in 2000. A book that is certainly the work of an ideologue. (That’s “Revolution” as in “Conservative Revolution.”) And I located a page describing me as a “bright, young left-wing journalist.” (Emphasis added.) High praise indeed from a right-wing ideologue–especially the “young.” (I was in my early 40s at the time.) What went wrong? Perhaps Novak simply does not appreciate journalism when it is applied to him and his self-contradicting columns.


INFO ON HUBRIS: Tom Brokaw says “Hubris is a bold and provocative book that will quickly become an explosive part of the national debate on how we got involved in Iraq.” Hendrik Hertzberg, senior editor of The New Yorker notes, “The selling of Bush’s Iraq debacle is one of the most important–and appalling–stories of the last half-century, and Michael Isikoff and David Corn have reported the hell out of it.” For more information on Hubris, click here.